Reddit.com is a website home to 2.4 million different communities, called subreddits, each of which has its own theme, culture, and users, and all of which were user-created. Of these communities, over 130,000 are considered “active” (source), meaning they have posts uploaded to them on a semi-frequent basis. The content of subreddits ranges greatly: from all things related to Kanye West in r/Kanye, to resources on and discussion of weightlifting, cardio, and general exercise in r/Fitness. The wide diversity of communities offered on Reddit is baffling. Thousands of hobbies, languages, cities, political leanings, videogames, TV shows, and even pornographic models all have their own communities for which users regularly create and/or upload content. With all these thousands of different places to post, millions of posts over the entire site, and billions of comments on those posts, how is this all managed?
There are two levels to the regulation of Reddit: the subreddit level, and the platform level. Over the entire platform, Reddit’s administrators have set rules governing the ways that all users and subreddits can use their site and exactly what kind of posts or discussions can and cannot be had. There is also the subreddit level, which contains rules pertaining to just that community, the content that can be uploaded to it, and the comments that can be made. Let us start here, at the smallest level.
Each subreddit has its own set of internal rules for commenters and uploaders to follow. Usually, they boil down to “be nice” and “only upload things pertaining to the subreddit”. But who made these rules, and how are they enforced? Here come the moderators. Every subreddit has a non-zero number of users deemed as moderators, who police the posts and comments daily for any breaches in the rules. Since the rules they enforce were created by the moderators—who are also users, individual rules can vary quite greatly between subreddits. If I posted a picture of a dog in r/Cats, my post would probably be deleted. If I want my post to stick around in r/EVEX, it better not mention “what happened on April 3rd, 1998 in Springfield Maryland from approximately 3am to 4pm”. (Yes, that is an actual rule as of writing this).
Breaking rules in subreddits can have varying consequences, from just getting your post removed, to getting completely banned from the subreddit. What happens in any individual instance is usually decided solely by the moderator performing the action. These actions themselves are inherently part of the culture of the website; for example, one running joke on the site is that whenever someone posts anything anti-North Korea, usually someone responds saying that the poster is now banned from r/Pyongyang, the satirical pro-North Korea subreddit.
Past the individual subreddit rules, there is a site-wide content policy (found here) which has a handful of rules against harassment, bullying, threats of violence, hatred, doxing, impersonation, and child pornography. These rules not only govern what the users of the website can do, but also extends to the communities on the site. Over the years, not only have thousands of users been banned by the admin team of Reddit, but so have hundreds of communities. Many notorious communities over the years have been banned or “quarantined” (which means that there is a warning message before entering the subreddit), such as r/FatPeopleHate, which centered around harassing or making fun of overweight people, or r/Incels, a community of self-described involuntary celibates who frequently encouraged violence towards women and glorified the actions of mass shooters like Elliot Rodger, the Santa Barbara shooter. For most of these subreddit bans, the consensus from the overall userbase has been that the decision was a good idea to lower the overall toxicity of the website; one can easily see how r/FatPeopleHate might not be the most nice, loving community on the website, and what the frustrated, girlfriend-less users of r/Incels say may not be palatable to many advertisers.
The vast majority of the subreddits which have been banned were incredibly small communities, removed from the site for either containing a slur or swear in the title, being a copy of another banned subreddit, or advocating for the posting of child pornography. However, some of the larger subreddits which have been banned have a much more interesting history.
r/The_Donald started out as a community to support Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 US presidential election. Over time, the presence of the subreddit on the site grew enough that it was one of the most popular communities on the whole website and the highest rated post frequently hit the front page. The pro-Trump memes flooded the website through vote inflation and manipulation, and the often racist and xenophobic sentiments of the community could be felt by all users of Reddit. It was not just memes and polling numbers being posted: a few prominent conspiracy theories were discussed here, and some may have even started in this community. One example of a frequently mentioned conspiracy theory was Pizzagate, the theory that high-ranking Democratic Party officials were involved in a child sex-trafficking ring. This theory would go on to pave the way for more recent conspiracies, such as QAnon.
Eventually, the subreddit was quarantined—and later banned—by the admins of Reddit, to the dismay of many conservative redditors. However, all reasons for their removal were completely justified. They weren’t just some right-wing community; the comments frequently contained racist and anti-LGBT messages which were not removed by the moderators, the votes on posts were manipulated quite often, and, through the use of pinning posts to the top of the subreddit, the moderation team was able to game the site and catapult certain posts to the front page with ease. All of these reasons lead to the eventual ban of the community and the migration of its users to a website—which heavily mirrors Reddit’s style—created by the mods, thedonald.win. The community housed over 790,000 users at the time of the ban, (source) making it one of the largest and most influential groups of Trump supporters on the Internet.
Reddit’s relationship between its regulation, its communities, and its users plays a large role in the culture. Site-wide regulation often involves removing certain toxic aspects of the overall culture through purging whole communities, and subreddit specific rules cultivate and preserve the internal culture within each community. The subreddit rules influence the subcultures of the website much more than the Reddit content policy. They dictate what can and cannot be discussed or posted in their own community. The reddit content policy serves to apply pressure to the subreddit moderators to keep their communities clean, and when subreddits do not, they are often met with “the banhammer”.